How to save money & get exactly what you want...
By Colleen O'Neill Nice
When things get tough, gardeners get GROWING! During these challenging economic times, you can save money in your garden by growing plants from seed. Propagation is a cost effective way to expand
your plant collection while adding diversity to your garden. It is rewarding and a great way to relieve stress. Many new vitamin-rich, disease-resistant varieties of vegetables may only be available from seed. Numerous plants including sunflowers, poppies, zinnias, radishes, tomatoes and lettuce are simple to grow from seed. So grab your mouse and discover the plethora of seeds available on the internet.
Lets begin with two websites that offer seeds in small quantities and low prices. Celebrating their 29th year in business, Pinetree Garden Seeds(www.superseeds.com) offers a great selection of annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs. Unusual seeds include container plant seeds, everlastings and vegetables from around the world. I like to grow several different varieties of tomatoes each year so Pinetree's seed packets are a perfect size. Tumbling Tom Red Tomato ($1.35/10 seeds) is exceptional in containers if your space is limited. Hybrids, Sun Sugar ($1.50/15 seeds) and Sungold ($1.75/15 seeds) are great for munching on while gardening. A few years ago, I discovered Malabar Spinach (Basella rubra), an interesting ornamental vine that is edible and a real deal ($1.15/50 seeds). Pinetree Lettuce Mix ($1.25/500 seeds), a best seller, is a combination of sweet varieties of lettuce that is hand selected and blended. My favorite annual reseeder, Verbena bonariensis ($1.25/100 seeds) with clusters of small purple flowers floating on long, airy stems attracts butterflies. It's charming in a vase and easy to transplant volunteers to other areas of your garden.
T's Flowers and Things (www.Tsflowers.com) is another great site to buy small quantities of seed at low prices. According to Teresa Daly, owner and operator for nearly ten years, "The purpose of my website is to offer good seed and healthy plants at a very affordable price." And she does just that. All seeds are one dollar per packet with the exception of daylily seeds. The quantity of seeds in each packet depends on the variety. Easy to grow annuals like Amaranth cruentus (30 seeds), Cosmos sulphereus (30 seeds) and Zinnia 'Green Envy' (50 seeds) can be sown directly into the garden. I purchased Ginkgo biloba (5 seeds) at quite a bargain. Other sites were charging one dollar or more per seed! In addition to annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetables, Teresa provides excellent propagation tips with each variety.
Next, browse websites that offer large quantities of seeds at wholesale costs. These sites are not for everyone. You can find great bargains though, if you need to grow large quantities for a school fundraiser or divide the seeds amongst the garden club members. At Horticultural Products and Services(www.hpsseed.com), a century-old seed company, the motto is "Value – has been our special strength for decades." Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) are a simple, easy to grow annual for both sun and shade. Two new varieties include 'Dark Chocolate' and 'Chocolate Mint' ($9.75/50 seeds), both displaying dramatic, rich brown foliage. Additional price breaks are offered for quantities of 100, 250 and 500 seeds. An old-fashioned favorite, 'Limelight' ($6.50/100 seeds) is real showstopper with large chartreuse foliage. HPS sells annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables and vines. Herbs like Ocinum basilum, a large sweet Italian basil, are sold by the ounce ($4.25/approximately 14,000 seeds).
Hazzard's Wholesale Seeds (www.hazzardsgreenhouse.com) is a great example of seed diversity. Get ready to search through 1000's of annuals, perennials and vegetables plus 250 herbs and over 450 grasses. A unique 'search' feature allows you to list perennial seeds by hardiness zone. Their selection of ornamental grasses is incredible. When deciding on a grass to grow for a garden club fund raiser, I selected Milium effusum Aureum ($10.95/250 seeds), a hardy millet with golden-green foliage that glows in the shade. For favors for my daughter's wedding, environmentally-friendly seed packets of the Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis ($6.33/1000 seeds; $11.55/2000 seeds) was the perfect remembrance of the day!
Unusual seeds can be found at Summer Hill Seeds(www.summerhillseeds.com). This site has been selling seeds for five years and offers personal attention to its customers. I always receive a handwritten thank you and additional free seeds with any orders that I've placed. Check out seed categories like "Chocolate Vines and Flowers", "Tropicals" and "Fragrant". Thirty-five varieties of morning glories are listed including Ipomoea hederifolia var. lutea ($2.99/8 seeds) with a yellow inflorescence. For a vigorous, prolific bloomer try 'Candy Pink' Ipomoea ($2.25/25 seeds). "Chocolate Vines and Flowers" includes Nicotiana "Hot Chocolate" which boasts reddish/chocolate flowers ($2.25/30 seeds).
J.L. Hudson, Seedman (www.jlhudsonseeds.net) established in 1911, is a public access seedbank which distributes rare seeds from every continent. The collection includes annuals, perennials, trees, culinary herbs, heirloom vegetables, medicinal plants, cacti and tropicals. After a snowstorm destroyed thousands of trees in our area, I decided to propagate some of my own. Both varieties of the Golden Chaintree, Laburnum alpinum ($2/100-500 seeds) and L. anagyroides ($2.50/100-500 seeds) germinated easily and thrived in pots last summer. Once mature, this small deciduous tree displays yellow pendulous flowers that look similar to Wisteria. Propagating ferns from spores for your shady, woodland garden requires a bit of patience, but is truly rewarding. Try Polystichum munitum ($2.50/10,000+ spores), a hardy evergreen fern with leathery fronds selected as a Great Plant Pick in 2005.
For free seeds, check on-line seed exchanges. The National Gardening Association (www.garden.org) offers a simple forum to interact with other gardeners and exchange seeds for the price of postage. Dave's Garden (www.davesgarden.com) is a popular site that offers both free and paid subscriptions to various levels of their seed exchange. The American Fern Society (www.amerfernsoc.org/), with over 900 members worldwide, offers an impressive list of fern spores. Members pay fifty cents per packet plus a self-addressed stamped envelope. At the New England Wild Flower Society (www.newenglandwild.org/), a nationally recognized 107 year old plant conservation organization, members can purchase native plant seeds and spores first, then any remaining seeds are offered to the public. As a member of the American Horticultural Society (www.ahs.org/), I donate seeds from my garden every year and then get first choice from their seed exchange. Members pay a small donation to cover shipping.
Seeds are easy, economical and fun to grow. Be sure to read plant descriptions carefully, review propagation information and check shipping charges before placing your order. Although most sites offer reasonable shipping fees, ordering a couple packets from several different sites can increase costs significantly. Try something new in your garden this year and start it from seed!
Additional on-line resources:
Seed germination database and
helpful articles about propagation
On-line 50 minute 'Seed Starting Seminar for Beginners'
Library with tips for growing specific plants
Printed in the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal, March-April 2009